Star Wars: The Last Jedi is proving to be one of the most controversial films of the year. Critics are praising it for it’s unexpected plot and great characters, but long time fans are not happy with the changes director Rian Johnson made. After my first viewing, I loved the movie and was surprised to see the harsh reaction from fans, so I went into my second viewing with a more open mind. This only furthered my love for the movie, and I can confidentially say that The Last Jedi has joined the ranks of my favorite Star Wars movies of all time.
If you haven’t seen the movie, then check out our non-spoiler review first.
Before I start, I just want to say that this movie isn’t perfect. There was actually a big chunk of the movie that I didn’t like, so I’ll talk about that now.
Finn and Rose’s subplot, while not inherently bad, takes away from everything else that is happening. I would be so invested with Rey and Luke or with the Resistance, but when the movie cuts to Finn and Rose, it loses all momentum it has built up. I wish Rian Johnson rewrote the whole part of them going to Canto Bight to look for the “Master Code Breaker” and just had them sneak on to the First Order ship some other way. This would’ve reduced the already long runtime and taken out some unnecessary moments.
Canto Bight in general is my least favorite part of the movie. It doesn’t feel like a Star Wars planet but more like a Las Vegas casino with some exotic creatures, and the whole message about animal cruelty feels so forced. DJ, who is played excellently by Benicio Del Toro, isn’t a compelling character at all, and his turn on Finn and Rose isn’t surprising. The only reason I can see why they included Canto Bight was to set up for the force sensitive kid at the end of the movie. I will say, though, I disliked Canto Bight less on my second viewing.
Another I disliked was when Rose kissed Finn after saving him on Crait. I never felt like there was a romance between them, and even Finn looked turned off by it.
Pretty much everything I dislike about The Last Jedi involves Finn and Rose, which is a shame, because they are excellent, well written characters. There was also small stuff like some comedic moments that didn’t land, but despite how much I dislike these things, the things I do like more than make up for it.
For starters, The Last Jedi has some of the best cinematography in a Star Wars movie. There were so many beautiful shots that resonated in my mind, my favorite being Luke and Yoda sitting next to each other watching the tree burn. The cinematography is also coupled by yet another amazing score by the legendary John Williams. All of my favorite themes from The Force Awakens return, and there are a lot of callbacks to the original trilogy.
I think The Last Jedi does the best job of all the Episodes (excluding Rogue One) to portray the Resistance. The original trilogy paints a good picture of it, but it’s always just been a thing that our heroes are associated with. The Last Jedi puts you right in the middle of the Resistance’s predicament, and there is a real sense of struggle. It felt more authentic when they lost ships and fighters, and I was more invested in the Resistance during the battle of Crait than I was in any other Episode. The driving forces behind this authenticity are Admiral Holdo, Leia, and Poe.
I was a little on the fence about Admiral Holdo when she was introduced because the movie just pulls her out of nowhere, and I thought an established character should’ve been the one to take command after Leia, someone like Admiral Ackbar. But as the movie went on, her character really grew on me. Once her true plans are revealed is when I was totally on board with her, and this leads into one of the most badass scenes in the movie. Admiral Holdo sending the rebel ship into hyperspace through the First Order ships is visually and audibly stunning. I had chills on both of my viewings. But while this moment is incredible, I can’t help but wish it were an established character to do the act like, again, Admiral Ackbar. It would’ve been a perfect send off for his character, but I’m content with what we got.
Leia shines in this movie. She wasn’t given a lot to do in The Force Awakens, but here we get to see her actually commanding the Resistance. Unlike Poe, she cares more about protecting Rebel lives than she does taking down the First Order, so this creates a great dynamic between the two. Leia also finally gets to use the Force. The saga has been hinting at her Force abilities ever since Empire Strikes Back, so it was satisfying to see her actually use it. Some have complained about her “flying” through space, but I personally don’t have a problem with it. However, the way it was shot came off a little odd. It really was sad to watch Leia in this movie knowing that it is Carrie Fisher’s last performance. I got emotional seeing her on screen multiple times, but the scene that really got to me was her last confrontation with Luke. Overall, this is probably the best Leia has ever been since The Empire Strikes Back. I only hope JJ Abrams gives her a respectful send off in Episode IX.
Poe became one of my favorite characters in his first moments of The Force Awakens, so I was happy to see him with a larger role in The Last Jedi. Not only does he have a large role, but he also gets a lot of depth and one of the best character arcs in the movie. He starts out as a cocky rebel who cares more about blowing stuff up than protecting his fleet, which, again, creates a great dynamic with Leia. By the end of the movie, though, he learns that he isn’t always right, and the safety of the Resistance should be his priority. His first scene where he shoots down all the guns on the Dreadnought is one of the best X-Wing scenes, and it really shows that Poe is one of the best pilots in the galaxy. I was very happy with Poe in The Last Jedi, and I hope he continues to have a large role going forward.
All of this stuff about the Resistance is great, but it pales in comparison to the highlights of the movie: Luke, Rey, and Kylo Ren. Pretty much anything involving those three had me on the edge of my seat.
As soon as Rey meets Luke Skywalker, we know that he’s not the same from when we last saw him. His first action is throwing his original lightsaber off the cliff behind him. He immediately secludes himself in his hut and tells Rey to go away. We soon find out that he has cut off the force and denounced the ways of the Jedi. This angered a lot of fans who I’ve seen say that Rian Johnson ruined the character of Luke Skywalker and completely invalidated his arc of the original trilogy. While I was expecting Luke to be a super enlightened, all powerful Jedi, I was very satisfied with what we got. Luke as a flawed character is much more interesting than a perfect hero, and it makes sense that he wouldn’t be the same person he was 30 years ago, especially after all that’s happened. Luke becomes an old hermit who has separated himself from the Force because he feels guilty for playing a hand in sending Ben Solo down a dark path, and he can’t bear to face his sister and best friend, let alone the rest of the galaxy who sees him as a legend. But it’s not like this is a completely different, unrecognizable character. Sure he has different outlooks on life, but there are several moments when Luke’s younger, hopeful self breaks through, my favorite being when he sees R2-D2. This is thanks to Mark Hamill’s extraordinary performance, which I believe to be his best portrayal of Luke Skywalker. What I think made me love Luke so much in this movie, though, is his redemption, and it all starts with my favorite scene in the movie, possibly the entire franchise.
Before going into The Last Jedi, I theorized we would see the return of force ghost Yoda, and I was fulfilled on this hope in the best way possible. When the camera pans behind Yoda’s ears I audibly gasped, but it gets better when he’s revealed to be classic, puppet Yoda from the Original Trilogy. He’s back with his classic Yoda wisdom and jokes towards Luke, and the way he laughs after burning the tree brought back so many memories of why Yoda was cemented as my favorite character in The Empire Strikes Back. But Yoda isn’t just here as a forced cameo. He serves a purpose to persuade Luke to help the Resistance in their time of need. He lets Luke know that just because he stumbled and made bad decisions as a teacher, doesn’t mean he failed as a Jedi. “Best teacher, failure is.” The Jedi have made bad decisions, but it’s their core values that matter, and that’s what Rey possesses. This gives Luke the strength to give up his goals of ending the Jedi and to return as the Legend the galaxy knows him as one last time.
The way Luke returns is something I never thought I would see on screen. I had never been able to experience the “Star Wars Magic” for the first time in a theater until now. The entire sequence with Luke taking on the entire First Order and facing off against Kylo Ren had me absorbed the entire time, and the reveal of him being a Force vision is one that I won’t forget for the rest of my life. I like to think my reaction to this was the same as audiences in 1980 when they saw Yoda lift an X-Wing for the first time. It’s something we’ve never seen before, and while a lot of fans don’t like it, I think it’s one of the best moments in Star Wars.
Shortly after this, Luke fades away to his death like the Jedi before him. I’ll admit, the first time I watched this, it caught me off guard, and I was left a little underwhelmed. But on my second viewing knowing of Luke’s fate, I was able to see the beauty of the scene, and it left me in tears. From the moment we see Luke floating in a meditating pose, the music overwhelms the scene. He looks off into the distance at a Twin Sunset, which perfectly couples one of the first shots of him in A New Hope and it’s a perfect end to his journey. He starts out as a young, hopeful boy with nothing to lose, and he ends as a beaten down man with the weight of the galaxy on his shoulders who has still found peace in himself. I’m choosing to take the reason for his death due to too much power being used at once as well as him being at peace knowing he has done the right thing and that Rey and Leia are safe.
Rey continues to be one of my favorite new characters in this movie, and I really like how she’s much more of a learner here. In The Force Awakens she seemingly knows how to do a lot of things without prior knowledge or experience, but in The Last Jedi, there’s so much of the Force and the Jedi that she has yet to learn. She is also more naive in believing a lot of things will happen differently. She thinks Luke will be the legend she’s always heard of and that he will be the one to turn the tides against the First Order, but meeting your heroes isn’t always what you’d expect. I really like how she isn’t trained the same way Luke was trained in The Empire Strikes Back, she learns the ways of the Force but not in the way she was hoping.
One of my favorite parts about Rey in this movie was her dynamic with Kylo Ren. I loved the moments between them when they are be connected through the Force, and this is allows for those two characters to develop together which pays off in their team up later in the movie.
There was something big I was worried about before going into the movie: Rey’s parents. I’ve always hated how they set her up to have a big reveal about her parents. The Darth Vader reveal from The Empire Strikes Back is great because it’s unexpected. Whoever Rey’s parents turned out to be wouldn’t be surprising because fans have thought of every possible person for the last two years. I’ve even told my friends multiple times that I wish they just made Rey her own character without any significant parents, so I was overjoyed when that’s exactly what happened. Her not being tied to another person allows her to be her own character, and it plays well with the theme of the movie: you don’t have to be someone special to make a difference. This has me excited for her to finally let go of the past and make her own legacy in the next movie (unless JJ Abrams changes this).
While I love Rey in this movie, Kylo Ren has cemented himself as my favorite new character. I always loved him as a conflicted villain in The Force Awakens and that aspect of him is further developed here. He starts out The Last Jedi still torn over his actions from the last film. He thought killing Han Solo would push him all the way over to the Dark Side, but it’s only left him more conflicted. There is still something keeping him from going all the way. Adam Driver does an amazing job portraying Kylo Ren with so much emotion and internal struggle.
Kylo doesn’t stay conflicted for long, though. He makes the decision that allows him to reach his full potential. He kills Snoke. Many fans are extremely mad about Snoke’s death and him not being revealed as a significant character, but I never really liked the idea of another Emperor type character, and the way they utitlize him to develop Kylo Ren worked for me, however, I would’ve liked a little more development for the character before his death. After killing Snoke, though, Kylo and Rey have the best action scene in the movie as they team up to fight the Praetorian Guards. This scene is amazingly choreographed and beautifully shot. It also raises so many questions. Will Kylo Ren join Rey now, or will she join him? It was at this point where I had no idea where the plot could go. Ultimately, though, Kylo Ren to assumes his position as Supreme Leader. Kylo is no longer a Darth Vader wannabe. He “lets the past die” and moves forward as his own person, but it’s also evident that he’s not experienced as an army commander. Just like Hux says, he lets his emotions get in the way, so I’m really excited to see what happens next with Kylo commanding the First Order.
Another thing we get to see about Kylo Ren was the reason he turned on Luke. Luke went to confront Ben Solo about about the darkness that has been surrounding him, and after seeing what he could do, Luke flirts with the thought of killing him, but ultimately decides not to. Kylo wakes up to the image of Luke with his Lightsaber out, and interprets the wrong thing. What makes this flashback great is that it changes from each telling of the story. From Kylo’s perspective, Luke is an evil monster ready to murder him. From Luke’s perspective, Kylo is a harmless, innocent kid. It makes sense why Ben went down the dark path after this, and why Luke gave up on himself after this tragic moment.
A lot of people criticize Kylo Ren for being a “whiney” villain, but it’s that emotion that makes me love him so much. Other than teenage Anakin, we’ve never seen a villain with this much passion in all of Star Wars. Kylo Ren isn’t some big, bad, scary guy. He’s still a kid, but a dangerous one who hasn’t completely mastered how to handle things. He’s also arguably the most developed villain in the whole franchise, and I would go as far to say that he’s one of my favorite villains of all time.
I can see why people are upset with The Last Jedi. So many things that were set up like Rey’s parents and Snoke’s identity were tossed aside, and the characters we’ve grown to love have changed. But these changes and subversion of expectations are what make the film great for me. With great action scenes, amazing characters, and a great plot, The Last Jedi is one of my favorite Star Wars films. I do think fans will grow to love it, and in 20 years or so, it will be looked upon as one of the best Star Wars films.
Here is my ranking of all the Star Wars films as of now (click each one to see our review):
- The Empire Strikes Back
- A New Hope
- The Last Jedi
- The Force Awakens
- Return of the Jedi
- Rogue One
- Revenge of the Sith
- The Phantom Menace
- Attack of the Clones